Epicurus (4030) Midterm, due March 4

Please e-mail me your midterm to me by midnight March 4. Do not put your name in the file, and name the file using the following convention: [last-4-digits-of-student-iD]-4030midterm.doc .

Type up the three of the essays below. Use these essays as an opportunity to show me how well you understand the material. In order to do this, imagine that you are trying to explain the subject to your intelligent, but ignorant, roommate. That is, state things clearly enough, explain any technical terminology, offer examples where they are needed for illustration, and expand on any cryptic or compressed remarks, so that a person not already familiar with the material would understand what you mean. By doing this, you'll show me that you understand what you're talking about.

In each of the essays below, I give a number of points that I want you to touch upon. However, please do not simply answer them one-by-one, in a disconnected, "bullet-point," choppy manner. Incorporate your discussion of each of the points within a continuous, coherent, flowing essay on the topic. They do not necessarily need to be treated in order in which I mention them.

Many of the points listed in the paper writing guidelines are also relevant for writing these essays. Make sure that you offer reasons and arguments in support of your evaluations. Maximum length per essay: 3 pages. If your first paper's main topic was one of the questions below, please don't write on that question.


  1. Atoms and void. Briefly explain the Epicurean arguments for why bodies and void exist, why bodies are composed of indivisible particles (atoms), and why atoms and void have the properties that they do. Then evaluate one of his arguments.
  2. Colors and other sensible qualities. Briefly explain the position of Democritus on the status of sensible qualities, why it leads him into skeptical difficulties, why Epicurus finds Democritus' conclusions unacceptable, and how he proposes to avoid these troubles. Then evaluate some stretch of the argumentation expounded above: e.g., is Democritus right to draw the skeptical conclusions he does from his position on colors and the like, are Epicurus' reasons for rejecting these conclusions cogent, does Epicurus' modification of Democirtus' position successfully avoid skeptical problems, etc.?
  3. Mechanistic cosmology. Why do Epicurus and Lucretius think that what happens in the universe (i) is not due to the providential care or plan of any deities, and (ii) occurs because of mechanical, not teleological, processes? Evaluate their arguments for either of the above claims.
  4. Biology. For the Epicureans, the organs of creatures (e.g., the hand) have no purpose, no inherent function. Explain why they believe this and how they try to explain the apparent purposiveness of these organs. Then evaluate some part of their position, or one of their arguments.
  5. Philosophy of mind. Briefly explain the Epicurean arguments for why the soul is something corporeal (in particular, a bodily organ) and why, given this conception of the mind, death is annihilation. (NB: for the sake of this question, you need not go into the particulars of the composition of the mind out of 4 types of atoms, etc.) Then evaluate the Epicurean arguments either for the mind being corporeal or for death being annihilation (given that the mind is corporeal).

Return to the Epicurus page.